In accordance with the GOP’s pledge to make adherence to the Constitution a priority in the 112th Congress, House members read the Constitution aloud on the House floor Thursday. The left met this seemingly innocuous action — after all, the Constitution is the foundation for our constitutional republic — with harsh criticism.
The New York Times lampooned Republicans as sanctimonious and potentially racist for pulling such a stunt.
“Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person,” the Times’ editorial read.
In the Washington Post, E.J Dionne Jr. argued that those — such as the members of the Tea Party — who view the Constitution as infallible are foolish. According to Dionne, what is actually needed is a real debate over the adequacy of the document as it is currently written.
“An examination of the Constitution that views it as something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus would be good for the country,” Dionne wrote, a sentiment his colleague, Greg Sargent, later echoed.
Michael Lind chimed in as well in Salon, comparing Republican fealty to the Constitution with the Confederacy’s attempt to retain their right to slavery.
“Now that the Republican Party, founded as a northern party opposed to the extension of slavery, is disproportionately a party of white Southern reactionaries, dominated by the political heirs of the Confederates and the segregationist Dixiecrats, the denunciation of many exercises of federal authority as illegitimate would have been predictable, even if the president were not a black Yankee from Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois,” Lind wrote.
With political opposition to the reading of Constitution so quickly morphing into visceral calls to reexamine the adequacy of the Constitution itself and allegations that constitutional adherents are racists, some now wonder: just why is the left so opposed to and even afraid of the Constitution?
Mike Franc, vice president of government relations for The Heritage Foundation, said the real reason the left eschews the Constitution is because of the restrictive nature of the text, something he compares to a vampire seeing a cross.
“What they are really afraid of is reading the actual words and abiding by them, because the Constitution is a limiting document,” Franc told The Daily Caller. “It does exactly what they fear the most.”
While Franc argued that the opposition is a product of the material within the Constitution, Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told TheDC that the real critique is that the reading was more of a political stunt than a true attempt to understand the document.
“[It was] a cynical move to suggest that Congress routinely violates the Constitution in passing bills,” Mann wrote in an e-mail. “It makes one wonder how many of those reading passages actually understand its contents and meaning.”
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin speculated that some of the opposition was a product of liberals’ frustration with the Tea Party movement and the power that movement now wields.
“I think that the anger over the reading of the Constitution, the embedding of the constitutional limits in these pieces of legislation is a proxy for their anger over the Tea Party,” Malkin said on “Fox and Friends” Thursday morning,
Of course there is always the claim that the document was written by white men who had not yet been infused with an enlightened multicultural worldview, as Wilder Publications declares on their Constitution reprints.
“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today,” the disclaimer reads. “Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”
Indeed, in December, TheDC reported that a Democratic House aide viewed Republican devotion to the Constitution as a shield.
“It’s like the Republicans think that the Constitution will somehow save them from gay people, the poor, minorities and everything else that makes them uncomfortable,” said the aide.
Whatever the reason, with Republicans making such public stands to reaffirm their loyalty to the Constitution, discussion about the document’s meaning will be an ongoing theme this session.